What is the difference between a DO and an MD?

Shelley Webb
Nursing Specialist

The difference between a DO (doctor of osteopathic medicine) and an MD (doctor of medicine) is really a difference in philosophy. While medical doctors (which are based on allopathic medicine) evaluate the disease within their patient in terms of how it affects only certain parts of the body, the osteopathic doctor evaluates the disease within the body as a complex related network. Both types of doctors are licensed to practice medicine, write prescriptions and perform surgery. Both require four years of undergraduate study in either pre-medicine or a related science. Both require four additional years of medical training before being allowed to take their medical exams (which are comparably difficult but yet not quite the same). Both a medical doctor and a doctor of osteopathic medicine may elect to choose a specialty which would require between two and six years of additional training.

An MD and DO are different types of doctors.

  • MD is short for medical doctor. This type of doctor has an allopathic degree.
  • DO stands for doctor of osteopathic medicine. This type of doctor has an osteopathic degree.

Like an MD, a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) is licensed to practice medicine in any field they choose to specialize in. For example, I practice family medicine, but a DO can be anything from a family doctor or internist to a general surgeon, orthopedic surgeon, neurosurgeon or psychiatrist.

DO and MD doctors are alike in that they both use scientifically accepted methods to diagnose and treat you. This may include using prescription drugs and surgery.

Here's how they are different. Unlike an MD, a DO follows a universal approach to practicing medicine. That means he sees you as a whole—not just your symptoms or injuries. This approach believes that all the body systems are interconnected. It also thinks your muscles, bones and supporting structures (musculoskeletal system) play an important role in the condition of all the other systems.

There are currently more MDs working than DOs. However, more than 30 percent of doctors graduating from medical school today are from osteopathic schools. This is likely to go up as the need for doctors—and the recognition of DOs—grows.

This content originally appeared on

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.